Unabated to the QB, Week 9: The Halftime Report

Every time it seems to me that I’ve grasped the deep meaning of the world, it is its simplicity that always overwhelms me…. Everything simple is beyond us. What is blue, and how do we think “blue”?

—Albert Camus

Three seasons ago, the NFL peaked in terms of its own scheduling. Every team had enjoyed its bye week by Week 9 (hehe), meaning that there was a distinct midway point of the season by which everyone had played eight games.

The NFL, for some unknown reason, tinkered with its bye scheduling in the subsequent years, pushing some byes back later in the schedule. Thus, this year, while 30 of the 32 teams have already had their bye and have played eight games and can be totally compared at a kind of midway point, the Giants and Texans are 5-4 heading into their byes.

This does not, however, mean that we can’t still consider this halftime of the 2009 NFL season and the perfect time to look back at what I thought was going to happen, and what subsequently did not happen. We’ll hand out awards amidst some “Pats on the Back” and several “Yeah, about that…”s.

TEAM I WAS MOST WRONG ABOUT: Wow, there are a lot of contenders here. I had the Jets starting 0-5. I had the Broncos going 4-12 and the Titans at 11-5. I thought the Packers would win the NFC North and that the Rams AND Browns could EACH scratch out seven wins (not combined, EACH!). But none of these awful awful predictions can lay a finger on this one: “An offense with Haley calling the plays, Cassel at QB, Larry Johnson in the backfield, and Dwayne Bowe catching passes could be one of the AFC’s best.” I had the Chiefs at 9-7. The Chiefs. The same team that has lost 30 of its last 33 games! And traded their best player! What was I thinking???

PAT ON THE BACK: “The point is: It’s not happening again. The schedule is tougher, and Pennington hasn’t put together back-to-back good seasons since, well, he played for Marshall.”

The Dolphins are, in fact, exactly halfway to the 6-10 I predicted for them, in large part because Chad Pennington once again failed to back up a good year in the NFL. At the same time, I still think they’re the best under .500 team in the league and one of two teams currently saddled with five losses or more with a hope at the postseason. The other is the 49ers.

TEAM I WAS MOST RIGHT ABOUT: I think I did pretty well for myself in the NFC South, predicting a Saints’ division title, the semi-demise of Jake Delhomme, some struggles from the Falcons (who are a lot less impressive than they were three weeks ago), and that the Bucs were the worst team in the league. I stand by that with Tampa. They are the worst team in the league, even though Josh Freeman looked, without hyperbole, 1000 times better than I expected.

PAT ON THE BACK (WITH MAJOR QUALIFICATION): “While Joe Flacco will be given more offensive responsibility in Year Two (besides, you know, handing off and throwing the occasional deep ball), the defense will take a step back with the departures of Rex Ryan, Bart Scott, and Jim Leonhard—all to the Jets.”

Man, I was right on with that one. Flacco’s play through the first eight games has been one of the bigger surprises in the AFC North. It is not as surprising as the subpar play of the Baltimore defense, though.

Of course, the next sentence: “It won’t be a huge step, but it will be enough to offset the offensive improvement, especially considering the uncertainty in the Baltimore running game.”

I believe Ray Rice has solved that “uncertainty.”

YEAH, ABOUT THAT…: “It’s awfully tough to count on Cedric Benson to be a constant contributor offensively. I think it’s a bounceback year for Carson Palmer and that the Bengals will be competitive, but it’s tough to see this team scratching out much space in this division.”

BUT, if Cincinnati loses their last eight games (practically a sure thing), they’ll match my 6-10 prediction.

FIRST-HALF MVP: Peyton Manning. There is no need to explain.

PAT ON THE BACK: “Can I see the Titans being a team that goes from 13-3 to 7-9? Absolutely: Kerry Collins is their quarterback.”

YEAH, ABOUT THAT…: “At the same time, I expect them to grind out close wins and find themselves at the top of the division and with a first-round bye for a second straight year.”

Even if Tennessee does what we all expect and wins out behind Vince Young, it’s unlikely 10-6 will be enough for a first-round bye.

FIRST-HALF LVP: JaMarcus Russell. I already did my ‘splainin’ on this one.

PAT ON THE BACK: “I tried to keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but it’s really hard to find an eighth loss for this team.”

I was right. It is really hard to find an eighth loss for this team. And it’s not like I said it was easy to find any of the first seven.

YEAH, ABOUT THAT…: “Everything sets up perfectly for San Diego to cruise to the top seed in the AFC.”

So, not happening. BUT, you think the Colts aren’t rooting for the Broncos to win that division and the Chargers to stay home in January? Indianapolis hasn’t lost to a non-Charger team in any game in over one year, and the Colts are undefeated in playoff games against teams that aren’t the Chargers since 2006.

MAYBE MY BEST CALL OF THE YEAR: “Plus, is Matt Forte really that good? I’m always wary of one-year running back wonders (hey there, Olandis Gary!).”

Through eight games, Matt Forte has 441 yards and is averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He has just over half the yardage Cedric Benson has for the Bengals.

PAT ON THE BACK: “Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon are tenable NFL receivers.”

Smith leads the league in receiving. Unfortunately, his coach still doesn’t think a Super Bowl MVP at quarterback and the league’s leading receiver can attempt a pass in the red zone with a chance to put the game away late without throwing an interception. Worst. Decision. Ever.

YEAH, ABOUT THAT…: “They’re pretty good, and I could see them winning the other three divisions in the NFC.”

That’s about the Redskins. The 2-6 Redskins. The dull, nothing going on upstairs…Redskins.

DEFINITELY MY BEST CALL OF THE YEAR: “The Lions will end their regular season losing streak in Week 3 against the Washington Redskins.”

The Redskins are 2-6, and their two wins have come by two over the Rams (1-7) and by three over the Bucs (1-7). Two of their losses have come to the Lions (1-7) and the Chiefs (1-7).

YEAH, ABOUT THAT…: “Let’s get this straight: Brett Favre is an improvement over Tarvaris Jackson and/or Sage Rosenfels. But a Super Bowl contending improvement?”

If the Vikings lose out, they’ll finish with the 7-9 I prescribed for them this season. That said, they will neither win nor appear in the Super Bowl.

STAT THAT BEARS WATCHING: Chris Johnson is averaging 6.7 yards per carry. This would not be an NFL record, since Michael Vick averaged 8.4 yards per carry just three years ago for the Falcons. But, nobody with as many as Johnson’s 144 carries thus far this season has ever averaged as much as 6.7 yards a carry. The list of single-season leaders in yards per carry is stocked with quarterbacks and part-time backs from older eras.

If Johnson keeps up his current pace—and this isn’t an outlandish thing to conceive of: the Titans have already faced two of the toughest defenses in the NFL (PIT and NYJ), and their offense has shown some life the past two weeks with Vince Young at quarterback (haven’t seen the games, but I imagine they have incorporated some kind of spread-option with Vince and Chris, which has the potential to be the toughest play to defend in the league with their respective speeds*)—he can not only challenge the 2,000-yard mark but also Jim Brown’s 6.4 yards per carry from 1963, when he ran for 1,863 yards for the Browns.

So there’s something worth watching in Tennessee.

*If NFL fields were set up with wider hashmarks like those in college, I’m pretty sure the Titans could run this play every down and be very successful. Young or Johnson would get to the edge at least once every three plays.

YEAH, ABOUT THAT…: “Edgerrin James is still a good enough running back to keep teams honest.”

This week: In case you missed it last week, “Seahawks release Edgerrin James.”

COACH MOVING FASTEST UP THE “COOLEST COACHES” LIST: Did you see Ken Whisenhunt after beating the Bears last week? That was awesome! Anytime I get to link back to this is noteworthy.

Whisenhunt, comfortably at No. 4 in the preseason rankings, is seriously challenging Jeff Fisher’s slot at No. 3. It will be tougher to surpass Singletary at 2 and impossible to catch Tomlin at 1.

COACH STILL IN LAST ON THE “COOLEST COACHES” LIST: Brad Childress managed to look even creepier this season. He’s really upped the ante.

The Jets had a bye and the Chiefs played the Jaguars, so I don’t need to address those teams with my weekly features.

Prior to the Week 10 Snap

Last Week: 5-8

This Season: 48-65

Chicago (+3) over SAN FRANCISCO

Surprised the Niners are favored, you know, after losing to a 1-6 team.

NY JETS (-6.5) over Jacksonville

A rematch of that scintillating ’98 AFC Divisional Playoff Game!

Denver (-4) over WASHINGTON

How fast have the oddsmakers jumped off the Broncos’ bandwagon? Four points?

PITTSBURGH (-7) over Cincinnati

I’ll keep picking against the Bengals until they stop proving me wrong.

TENNESSEE (-6.5) over Buffalo

If ever a team could go from 0-6 to 10-6…

Detroit (+16.5) over MINNESOTA

Sure, why not? Those Lions should have covered last week.

New Orleans (-13.5) over ST. LOUIS

Saints haven’t covered the last two. But they play the Rams.

CAROLINA (+1.5) over Atlanta (outright)

NFC South teams don’t lose at home to other NFC South teams.

MIAMI (-10) over Tampa Bay

Josh Freeman in the hostile road environment at Land Shark Stadium? Not likely.

Kansas City (+1.5) over OAKLAND (outright)

That “not likely” was referring both to the chances of Freeman playing well and there being a hostile crowd at Land Shark Stadium. And no team should lose twice to these Raiders.

ARIZONA (-8.5) over Seattle

Cards have learned how to play on the road; can they win at home anymore?

SAN DIEGO (-2.5) over Philadelphia

Because I want it to happen.

Dallas (-3) over GREEN BAY

Big day for DeMarcus Ware.

INDIANAPOLIS (-3) over New England

Patriots defense just isn’t good enough to stop the Colts anymore, especially in Indy.

Baltimore (+11) over CLEVELAND

Still think the Ravens are that division’s best. And I’m going out on a limb: I’m sure the Browns are its worst.

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